UNWRAPPED: Making the Pareto-Rule Work For You

Personal Development, Unwrapped-Series
Senior with tea

I am sure all of you have heard of the 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle? The 80/20 rule says that very often things could be achieved much easier, faster and with less trouble by focusing on the top 80%. It states that often 80% of the effects are caused by 20% of the causes. So don’t go for perfection, just go for what would be good enough to get 80% of the benefit. In many cases that could also be translated to what or how much would be good enough if you don’t wanted to make it perfect.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that so often” – Sure, but why haven’t you used it more?







There are 2 primary reasons why you have failed to use the Pareto principle in the past:

  1. You have not separated your true goal and motives from your false or superficial goal and motives.
    If you are shooting at the wrong target, you will never get what you really want. So make it clear to yourself what you REALLY want.
  2. You have not clearly defined what your 80% would look like.
    What would good enough look like? Again, if your target isn’t clear, you have a hard time getting there. That is equally important for the 100% as well as for the 80% solution.

An Example

I recently had someone ask me how to make sure he could focus on things and whether he needed to clear out any distraction upfront? I simply said to him, that cleaning out every distraction (=100%) would take very often way too much time and effort. He should remove the most distracting things (=80%) and start with that. That proved to be a good answer because removing the most distracting things is achievable in a very short time frame (=20% of time investment). Had he tried to remove every distraction upfront (=100% time investment) I am pretty sure, he would have given up before even starting.

Step 1: What Are You Really After?

Like in the above mentioned example, you need to know, what you really (REALLY) want from your goal, because there is a superficial cause for your goal as well as a true, but hidden cause.

In this example wanting to clear out every distraction would be a superficial goal. The real (hidden goal) would be to be able to focus. So removing distractions was only a means to the real goal of being able to focus.

Beware that most of your goals aren’t about what you really want. You don’t want money, influence, power, fame. What you really want behind all this is something that would make you feel good. Don’t fall in the trap of going after something with all your power that’s not what you intend to get.

Ask yourself instead what your real motives are.

Step 2: How Can Your Real Motives Be Satisfied?

Once you’ve found out what your real motives are, you can then brainstorm how you can satisfy them. You should really consider giving this some thoughts, because very often your real goal could be achieved with far less effort and struggle than you might think. How can this be achieved differently than through your primary approach?

Step 3: How Good Is Good Enough?

I am sure you’ll know what 100% of the solution would look like. You also know that this could involve lots of work and trouble. However do you also know what 80% would look like?

Define what 80% or good enough would be like. This step is so much easier, once you’ve really determined what your after.

Again referring to the example above, knowing that your real intent is to be able to focus, you only need to ask how much you need to do (=remove distractions, etc.) to get to 80%, so you could achieve your real goal and are not blocked by waisting 100% of your efforts on subsidiary targets.

16 comments… add one
  • Great post as always Patrick. We should check these things often as our motivations, and what we want may change over time. The other thing is that we should never let a plan become an excuse for not moving. If you don’t know where to start than try something, if it doesn’t work than try something else.

    .-= ´s last blog ..5 Rules for Keeping the Holidays Special =-.

    • Patrick

      Justin, that is a great reminder. Man plans and the Gods laugh. With every plan you need to be flexible. And being flexible to constantly change your approach is the key to mastery.

  • And I thought it was the top 20% we are supposed to focus on? I’m confused…

    .-= ´s last blog ..What Do High WASPs Really Think About Mr. Ralph Lauren? =-.

    • Patrick

      Thanks for bringing this up.

      Pareto states that 20% of the effort will bring you 80% of the benefits. So yes you are right you should focus on the 20% efforts that will bring you the 80% benefits. In a business scenario that is easy; which 20% of your customers are bringing you 80% of your revenue? But I found it often easier for Personal Development to start with the end in mind; what are the 80% benefits that I want to get? Asking this question will bring you the 20% that you need to do to get it.

      So there are 2 ways to aks yourself:
      1. What 20% of my resources (people, actions, etc.) will bring me 80% of the wanted benefit?
      2. What would 80% of the wanted benefit would look like and how can I get there using only 20% of my resources.

      It is really the same, just starting from a different direction. However I found it benefitial to really find out for yourself, what the 80% (or you can say: “just good enough”) would really look like for you. The definition of it makes finding the needed resources much easier.

      I hope I made it clear now.

  • Hi Patrick – Thanks for reminding us to remember that good enough is just fine. I’ve noticed that perfection often gets in the way, though, when we think we must aim for 100%. I’ve used an activity from the book, “Feeling Good” by David Burns to work through this. It’s been helpful for me personally and with clients. In it you’re asked to look at satisfaction and reward for different levels of accomplishment, say 50, 60, 70% and so on. It’s always insightful.

    .-= ´s last blog ..Retracing My Steps =-.

    • Patrick

      Patty, thank you for this tip. It works just in the same direction. 80% is of course only an analogy for “what feels good enough for yourself”. So it doesn’t matter if this is 50, 60, 70 or 80%. It’s only to stop you from the dreaded perfection and it’t killing influence on motivation.

  • I have acquired a valuable lesson here. I’m am oftentimes lost with all the ripple in my mind. I must always remember to focus on the things that will benefit me the most. 🙂

    • Patrick

      Walter, DON’T always (=100%) remember to focus on the things that benefit you most. Just remember it often enough (=80%) to make it work for you.

  • Hi Patrick! I really like the distinction you make between the “real” goal under what we think is the goal… that’s really useful and worthwhile to contemplate. Also, I now truly understand the 80/20 rule for the first time, so thanks a bunch!!

    Cheers,
    Miche 🙂

    .-= ´s last blog ..Regaining Inner Peace, Clarity and Focus When You’re Busy: Walking Gratitude Meditation =-.

    • Patrick

      Hello Miche, good to see that this distincton makes sense to you and allows you to apply the principle even better in your life.

  • Thanks Patrick for presenting this is a new way. I am a reformed perfectionist and still trying to avoid going for 100% every time!

    However I now stop and ask mysefl just how good anything really has to be. How wonderful it would be to get 80% of our desired results with just 20% of the effort:-)

    .-= ´s last blog ..Catch a Bus to Juice up Your Life! =-.

    • Patrick

      Arvind, I can relate to calling myself a reformed perfectionist. I learned these lessons the hard way myself.

  • Hey Patrick,

    I can relate to your second point! I have a relatively new site and as I’m trying to improve it’s visibility in the web maze, I had to realize that things like SEO are about optimizing to a given keyword.. until I don’t know what is my niche, what are the keywords that best fit me.. there’s no space for improvement. And that applies to our lives, too! Until we don’t know what we’re gonna accomplish, we can’t take the first step towards it.

    But I think that’s all obvious 🙂
    😉 Zoli

    .-= ´s last blog ..7 Christmas Habits To Bring More Love To The Holidays =-.

    • Patrick

      Zoli, actually I stopped caring too much about SEO. I made a decision to focus my efforts only on content and making guest posts – which proved to be a more effective strategy for growth, than SEO. And for the necessary SEO part – my theme “Thesis” takes care of that. I’ve been already listed highly at Google for some powerful keywords. But I haven’t come up with them – Google picked them and people searched for them, by I never cared about them. Again, go for the 80% that make the biggest impact. In my blog case 80% would be great content and the 20% would be other strategies like SEO.

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